Health Highlights: March 4, 2004

Group Wants New Cholesterol Drug Pulled Patient Lifts Recalled Over Fall Risk Study: Asbestos Still a Crisis in U.S. Obese Women Earn Less, Study Finds U.S. Launches Investigation Into Lone Mad Cow Case FDA Unveils New Drug Information Web Site

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Group Wants New Cholesterol Drug Pulled

The watchdog group Public Citizen is urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to pull the cholesterol drug Crestor from the market only months after it was approved.

Citing reports that some patients on the drug suffered from life-threatening kidney failure and muscle damage, the group called upon the FDA to remove Crestor "immediately," adding that Public Citizen had warned of these complications before the drug was approved in August.

A 39-year-old woman in the United States died from those complications, and Public Citizen says it has counted nine cases of kidney damage and seven cases of muscle damage in the United States, Canada, and England since Crestor was approved.

Another statin, Baycol, was removed from the market for similar reasons. However, says Dr. Sidney Wolfe, leader of Public Citizen Health Research Group, those cases happened after Baycol was approved; in Crestor's case, the problems happened during clinical trials.

Crestor's maker, AstraZeneca, has launched a direct-to-consumer advertising campaign. In addition to the cases, Public Citizen says two major U.S. health insurers and the Swedish government are refusing to cover the drug.

AstraZeneca says that the drug is "generally well-tolerated," but that it should be prescribed "with caution" to patients with kidney trouble.


Patient Lifts Recalled Over Fall Risk

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday announced the recall of patient lifts because of a faulty design in a key bolt that could cause a patient to fall.

These lifts, commonly used in hospitals and nursing homes, are designed to move a patient from one place to another, such as from a bed to a bathroom.

This batch of lifts, made in Denmark and distributed by Moving Solutions Inc., of Downers Grove, Ill., has a bad main bolt that connects the lifting arm to the main frame. When the bolt breaks, the FDA reports, the arm becomes disconnected, which can result in a fall.

"The lift arm may also fall on the patient, which could result in serious injury, even death," the agency warns. "Facilities should stop using these lifts until the problem is corrected."

Moving Solutions warned customers about the problem and offered to give a washer to help fix it, but the FDA says it's not convinced that solution will work.

About 850 lifts have been distributed in the United States.


Study: Asbestos Still a Crisis in U.S.

The asbestos crisis is far from over and the United States can expect to see at least 10,000 asbestos-related deaths each year for the next two decades or so.

So says a new report released Thursday by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Action Fund in Washington, D.C. The report includes the first maps to disclose asbestos-related deaths on both the county and national levels since 1979. Los Angeles County in California and Cook County in Illinois topped the list.

"After 15 years of working on these issues, I was absolutely stunned at the extent of mortality and diseases that are still caused by asbestos," HealthDay quotes EWG senior vice president Richard Wiles as saying. "This rate of death appears to be increasing based on a review of federal mortality data maintained by the CDC from 1979 to 2001."

The group is critical of a bill pending in the U.S. Senate that would set up a trust fund and place restrictions on asbestos-related claims.


Obese Women Earn Less, Study Finds

Being obese is more than a threat to your health, it can also hurt your wallet.

A Finnish study found highly educated obese women earn about 30 percent less than normal-weight women or those who are plump. That works out to a difference of about $5,000 a year less for the obese women, the Associated Press reports.

The study, published Wednesday in the American Journal of Public Health, found obesity had little or no effect on work income if women were poorly educated, manual workers or self-employed.

Obesity also had no statistically significant impact on men's wages, the study found.

The researchers had no explanation for why obesity has such an effect on the income of highly educated women. They suggest that higher socioeconomic classes may exert more pressure on women to be thin.


U.S. Launches Investigation Into Lone Mad Cow Case

The U.S. government has begun a criminal investigation into possible falsification of documents in the lone case of mad cow disease in the United States, The New York Times reports.

An Agriculture Department official says the investigation centers on whether the affected Holstein cow, which was slaughtered Dec. 9 in Washington state, was a "downer." That refers to a cow that's too sick or injured to walk.

The investigation is the result of allegations contained in media reports in early February that official records may have been altered, the official told a House of Representatives' appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday.

Official records of the veterinarian at Vern's Moses Lake Meats, where the cow was slaughtered, state the afflicted cow was conscious but down on its chest before it was killed. Three witnesses, including the slaughterhouse owner and the worker who killed the animal, have said publicly that the cow was walking before it was killed, the Times reports.

The Agriculture Department tested fewer than 21,000 cows for mad cow disease last year, compared with millions in Europe. Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman has repeatedly stated that number is enough to guarantee the safety of the nation's beef supply because the testing focuses on downers, which are more likely to carry disease. If mad cow was found in a walking cow, that would undermine the premise behind the testing system, the Times reports.


FDA Unveils New Drug Information Web Site

A new drug information Web site for patients, consumers and health professionals has been launched by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The site, called Drugs@FDA, is a searchable database that offers information about approved prescription drugs, some over-the-counter drugs, and discontinued drugs. It's the first Web resource that provides a comprehensive overview of a drug product's approval history, the agency says.

Because Drugs@FDA packages all drug approval information on one site, Internet users no longer have to visit multiple Web pages searching for brand name and generic drug information.

The site includes consumer information sheets, medication guides, labeling information and other resources for patients. The site will eventually include information on drug recalls, warnings and shortages.

The site can be found at the FDA.

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